Today is the first day of Advent! Do you celebrate? Do you know what it is? Advent is one of the things I really miss about traditional church. How do you feel during the weeks leading up to Christmas? Maybe the overwhelming spirit of materialism makes you sad, or maybe you feel only stress and long for some peace. Maybe you just really want your kids to know they are receiving a gift infinitely bigger than video games or lego sets.
Advent is a 4 week season to remind us that Christmas is about hope, peace, joy and love. It allows us time to realize we are doomed by our sin and lets us prepare our hearts for the arrival of our savior. By Christmas day we are ready to celebrate the savior who keeps his promises, loves abundantly, and will never abandon us.
If you’ve celebrated Advent the same way your whole life, maybe this is the year to do something different. There are many Advent traditions that have evolved over the past 2000 years, some are ancient and some are brand new. I love how the Holy Spirit continues to push and inspire us to find new ways to relive this familiar story. Sometimes a change in practice allows us to see the story in a new light, or from a different character’s point of view.
If you’ve decided to practice Advent this year, I compiled some resources to help you and/or your family. I have used them myself and with my family. They have given me new ways to think about familiar scriptures, and have led our hearts away from the frenzied consumerism and back toward the earth altering event in Bethlehem.
The Advent wreath has 4 candles on the outside, with a large one in the middle, and it visits a different part of the Christmas story each week. It varies from church to church, but the point is to cover major themes: the prophecies which bring hope, the preparation which (oddly enough) brings peace, the shepherds who receive joy, and the angels who sang of God’s gift as love. Finally, on Christmas day, you light the Christ candle to remember his humble but awesome birth. Lighting the Advent wreath is my favorite Christmas memory from childhood. Each Saturday night we would gather around the wreath, my parents would trust me to strike matches, and we would light the new candle. We followed the same litany each year, which was a poetic combination of scriptures, prayers, Christmas hymns, and a specific reading for kids to tell what the candle was about.
There are many scripts to use for lighting the candles online if you google Advent wreath scripts, but this one is my favorite for families and young children:
Jesse Trees show us how the Christmas story relates to the rest of the bible with a new ornament and bible story each day. I usually gather the trimmings from the tree and put them in a vase. Some people buy a small table top tree, or just put the ornaments on their larger family tree. The reading plans go through the major bible stories chronologically and help us trace God’s promise and our need for a savior through history. When you’re finished with the bible story, hang an ornament relating to the story on the tree. You can buy ornaments, or make them, or just print the ornaments and color them.
Ann Voskamp has perfected the Jesse tree, she has written beautiful books for adults and families. The books take you through the scriptures with devotionals and matching ornaments (which you can print for free or buy.)
Holy Heroes also offers an Advent Adventure program, which is a combination of Advent wreath prayers and Jesse tree ornamets. Each day you get an email with a new video, and links to activity pages, prayers, and kids devotionals. This is a Catholic resource, so I skip the parts about mass and about praying the rosary, but if you’ve never celebrated advent before those parts may help understand the history and the symbolism of advent. The Jesse tree links have their own videos and printables though, and can be used across denominations. The other awesome part about program is its FREE!
Sign up for your daily email here –holyheroes.com/Holy-Heroes-Advent-Adventure-s/48.htm
A Christmas Craft Calendar is very similar to the Jesse tree, but focuses more on the Christmas story and less on the entire Old Testament.
A list or crafts and bible stories can be found at truthinthetinsel.com
Every day you create an ornament with your kids for the tree, and read the scripture that corresponds. The ornaments are fairly simple, made with common craft supplies. If you think your kids would love it, but 25 days of crafting sounds crazy, don’t fret! There are shorter plans, with ornaments for just 5 or 10 days. There are also backup printable ornaments that only need to be colored if you’re missing the supplies on any given day. I would recommend it for kids between 4 and 10, although I had a lot fun helping my kids last year and I’m 35.
Photo challenge is for visually minded learners, and maybe teens who want nothing to do with things like circle time or coloring pages. A photo challenge has a list of Advent keyword topics relating to the lectionary readings for the day. Snap a photo that embodies the topic and keep it in a gallery to meditate on, or share it on Instagram/facebook/twitter/whatever to minister to your friends and other visually minded people.
Bible journaling- Have you seen the art people draw in their bibles? Search #biblejournaling and prepare to be amazed! It’s a beautiful outlet for people who are crafty AND inspired by scripture to put those talents together. Drawing, writing, painting, or crafting in response to the word challenges creative minds to see familiar Christmas scriptures in entirely new ways. Scripture Writing is for the person who loves the idea of bible journaling but is about as crafty as a lumberjack. Scripture writing is basically copywork for grownups- copy down the daily scripture, (about 5 verses) word for word. It can be in beautiful calligraphy with embellishments, or written on a legal pad in pencil. Pray over the passage, and scan it for words and phrases that God is speaking to you. Then highlight these things, or retrace them, while thanking God for his faithfulness.
The benefit of both practices is that you’re engaged with the Word, removing the temptation to space out while reading the parts that you’ve read 100 times. Both practices can be done year round, but there are special resources to help you focus on Advent.
Scripture Writing (starts dec.1) thebusymom.com/scripturewriting
Devotionals Almost everybody puts out an Advent devotional, there are several inspiring ones for free on the YouVersion bible app. The ladies at She Reads Truth also deliver goodness every single day, and they expand their offerings during Advent to minister to kids and hubbies too! Their workbooks are beautiful and worth the price, but you can also follow the readings and devotionals daily for free on their website. shopshereadstruth.com/collections/advent-2016
I hope you and your family will take the time this next month to celebrate Advent! If none of these resources work for you, I hope you will at least be intrigued by the concept and find your own way to celebrate.